Identified Scam:

Craigslist Rental Scam: What It Is and How to Beat It

In this Craigslist rental scam, potential renters send money to the scammer before seeing the property only to realize the listing was fake and lose their money.


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Updated 4 February 2021
Craigslist Rental Scam: What It Is and How to Beat It
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Identified Scam:

Key Finding

Fake property rental listings on Craigslist may offer photos, but won't allow you to see the property in person.


Key Risk

Once you send money for a deposit, credit, check, first and last month's rent, and more, you don't hear back from the Craigslist landlord again—they've taken off with your money.

Sections on this page
  1. What is the Craigslist Rental Scam?
  2. How to Beat This Craigslist Rental Scam
  3. Red Flags of Craigslist Rental Scams
  4. Scam Examples
  5. Have You Fallen For This Scam?
  6. Frequently Asked Questions About Craigslist Rental Scams

Craigslist rental scams have been around for years. Due to the website's nature, it's easy for criminals to prey on innocent people looking for an affordable place to live. If you're looking for a new home on Craigslist, it's best to proceed with caution and be on the lookout for red flags of a scam.

What is the Craigslist Rental Scam?

There are a few different types of Craigslist rental scams, but they all follow the same general pattern. Here, the scammer uses a fake rental listing to trick you into sending money to them, whether for a deposit, your first month’s rent, credit check, or other initial expenses. Once you’ve sent them the money, they will disappear with it, and you’re no closer to finding a home to rent.

1. You Contact the Poster of a Rental Ad on Craigslist
 

They may say they’re the property owner, or perhaps a “middle man”: A friend helping a friend rent out their place while they’re away. Of course, they’re more than happy to talk to you about the deal. (And often, though not always, they let you know that you’re looking at a widely-desired property, so it’s best to act fast.)

2. They Ask for Money and Can’t Meet You In Person

The scammer may first send you a renter’s application, which could ask for sensitive information like your Social Security number. More often than not, though, they will waste no time asking you for money to pay for things like:

  • First (and maybe even last) month’s rent
  • A security deposit
  • An application fee
  • A credit check

And, almost always, they’ll give you a reason why they can’t meet you in person or offer to show you the apartment before you hand over the money. This is one of the most obvious signs that the listing is a scam. Legit people trying to rent out rooms or houses will usually do everything they can to let you see the home for yourself.

Example of What a Craigslist Scammer May Say

Unfortunately I can't meet you in person or show you the place because I moved out of state, which is why I'm renting this apartment out. Please send the security deposit of $800 plus first month's rent. Once I receive payment I will send you the keys. 

3. You Make a Deposit; They Pocket Your Money
 

Maybe you’re moving from another state and couldn’t check the place out first anyway. Maybe their story was really convincing.

Safety Tip

Don't hand over any money until you've seen inside the rental yourself. Many scammers will tell you you can drive to the address and peek inside the windows, but this isn't enough for you to send them money.

Whatever the reason, you make the deposit and arrange a move-in date, only to never hear from the poster (i.e., the scammer) again.

You’re out possibly thousands of dollars and a place to live—a terrible situation for anyone to find themselves in. 

How to Beat This Craigslist Rental Scam

The best way to beat this Craigslist rental scam is to refuse to hand over any money until you can at least see the place.

There shouldn’t be any reason why any legitimate realtor or landlord wouldn’t be able to show you the home before you make a deposit. And you’re under no legal obligation to pay anyone anything until you’ve viewed the property.

Still, sometimes scammers even go far enough to break into homes or use decoy apartments they otherwise have access to. For this reason, it’s also best to do a little research before putting any money down or filling out any paperwork.

Safety Tip
If you're worried about falling victim to a Craigslist rental scam, look for a rental on a more legitimate site, like Apartments.com, Zillow.com, or Realtor.com.

Check Who the Landlord or Owner Is

If the poster is claiming to be a landlord, make sure they really own the property. (If they’re claiming to be a friend of the owner, ask them for the owner’s name, then make sure that name they give you is related to the property.)

If you’re looking at an apartment or condo, you can check the facts by calling the property management company or related association to ask for confirmation. If it’s a house, try searching the property records for the area.

Craigslist rental scams are much more common than you’d think.

According to the Better Business Bureau, more than half of these scams go unidentified by the company at all, and even posts marked “suspicious” can stay up on the site for up to 20 hours.

Red Flags of Craigslist Rental Scams

Scammers tend to cater to people who are more eager or even desperate to close a deal. Some more commonly impacted groups include university students or people moving from another state, who wouldn’t be able to examine the property first anyway.

Still, scammers aren’t picky. They’ll target anyone looking for a rental home on Craigslist, so it's almost impossible not to be targeted. 

Every Craigslist post is different, but there are several scam signs to look out for, including:

  • Inability to show you the apartment
  • A deal too good to be true
  • Duplicate listings from different realtors
  • Missing information
  • Houses with "For Sale" signs

Don't ever hand over any money until you've seen the house or apartment for yourself or have had someone you know look at it for you. Even if you've been given the property's address, don't trust someone who won't show you inside.

Inability to Show You the House or Apartment

If an owner says they can’t show you the apartment before giving them money, ask them if they could at least do a live video tour via Zoom or FaceTime. If they still refuse (usually they will say they're out of town), this is a red flag, and you should consider looking for another rental.

A Deal Too Good To Be True
 

This may be hard to discern if you’re not familiar with the area, but one of the biggest red flags of a rental scam is a deal that’s too good to be true. Still, even if you’re new to town, you can use your best judgment. For example, a 2-bedroom apartment in the heart of downtown for less than $1,000 in almost any major city would be suspect.

Check against other similar apartments or homes in the area to see if the listing price makes sense. 

A Duplicate Listing

You might even come across the same listing for a different city! People commonly pull off this scam by copying a realtor’s ad word-for-word. A Google image search of the listing could reveal this alternative source—and expose the fraud.

Missing Details

Another place to look for clues is in the copy of the posting itself. For example, if the poster lists a general area for the property but no actual address, it’s most likely a scam.

No photos are another warning sign or pictures that may not match the property’s actual location. (Think: Pictures of a park view out the window for a property that’s nowhere near an open space.)

Poor grammar or unusual phraseology is also sometimes—though not always—an indicator of a scam.

The Owner’s Story

Most of the time, in Craigslist rental scams, the poster will be posing as a landlord or owner. Sometimes they also pose as a “middle man” of sorts—a friend helping a friend rent out their place while they’re moving locations or otherwise out of town.

Regardless of who they say they are, one common theme in most rental scams is that the poster is out of town and can’t be around to show you the place themselves. (Often, they claim to have to “leave suddenly for work,” or even something as sad as “a recent death in the family.”)

Sometimes, an owner may say they’re sending a surrogate to show you the property, but this, too, should be eyed with healthy skepticism.

It’s highly unusual for a property owner to not either want or be able to show their property personally before renting it out.

The House Has a For Sale Sign

To make the rental listing seem more legit, scammers will often give you an address of a house that's currently for sale. They do this to avoid you driving to the address, only to find people are currently living there with no intention or knowledge that the property is being advertised. 

By using an address of a house that's for sale, you will be able to visit the property and take a look at it, at least from the outside. The scammer in this scenario will give you a reason why there's a "For Sale" sign outside. 

Pushing for Payments

Being pushy about payments is the heart of the scam. Ultimately, the scammers want to cash your check before you realize what’s going on.

They may bring up more unusual payment methods, like a wire transfer, money order, MoneyGram, or Western Union. These are almost always tied to scams!

The push for payment can be woven into the poster’s story: They may claim that many people are looking at the property to put additional pressure on you. They may have a story about the current tenants not allowing anyone to view the apartment before moving out.

At the end of the day, when it comes to a Craigslist rental scam, you’ll likely be asked to make your deposit before signing any paperwork or even seeing the place. Again, these are both highly unusual situations and very likely related to scams.

Scam Examples

Many Craigslist rental scam listings will look legitimate and look like any other rental listing on the platform. The scam signs really start showing up when you start a conversation with the contact (i.e., scammer). 

Example of Craigslist rental scam
Scammers will use houses that are for sale so they can give you an address, but still won't be able to show you inside and will give an excuse as to why there's a "for sale" sign outside.

Scammers will have a whole host of reasons why they aren't able to show you the house or apartment first and be pushy about getting payment first. They might ask for a security deposit, first and last month's rent, or both.

Text messages from a Craigslist rental scammer
Be wary of anyone who asks for money before you are able to see the apartment or house.

Although not always proof of a scam, often fake rental listings on Craigslist are riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. 

Example of Craigslist rental scam
Grammatical and spelling errors are common in scams.

Have You Fallen For This Scam?

If you've given the scammer a check for a deposit, it might be possible to cancel it with your bank, as long as they haven’t already cashed it.

Otherwise, it can, unfortunately, be difficult, if not impossible, to get any lost money back in these situations. But you can—and should—still report these offenses.

Cancel Your Money Transfer

Depending on how you made the transfer, you may be able to contact your financial institution and attempt to cancel the transaction. Unfortunately, by the time you realize you’ve fallen for a scam, it could be too late. In which case, there isn’t much you can do to get your money back.

Report the Scam to Craigslist
 

First, if you encountered the scam in the Craigslist houses for rent, Craigslist rooms for rent, or Craigslist apartments for rent subsection, you should flag the post. Then, alert Craigslist to what’s going on.

You can report a Craigslist scam online. Be sure to include as much information as possible, including the post ID, URL, and any communication you've had with the scammer.

Unfortunately, if you’ve already sent the scammer money, reporting it to Craigslist won’t get you your money back. You will, however, help Craigslist remove scam posts and help others avoid this scam.

Report the Scam to the Authorities

You should follow this up with a report made to the local authorities in the rental area. If they catch the person in question, you may be able to take them to court for your lost money.

You can also report rental scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a government agency that works in tangent with the FBI to help with online crimes and scams.

Frequently Asked Questions About Craigslist Rental Scams

How do I report Craigslist rental scams?

You can report Craigslist rental scams online directly to Craigslist, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and even the Internet Crime Complaint Center. 

How do I avoid Craigslist rental scams?

The best way to avoid falling victim to a rental scam on Craigslist is to look for an apartment or home on a different website, such as Realtor.com or Zillow.com. If you still want to find a rental on Craigslist, always be on the lookout for the red flags in postings and in your communications with the landlord (i.e., the scammer).

Are there rental scams on Craigslist?

Unfortunately, yes. Craigslist rental scams are some of the more common scams found on the platform. Always be careful when looking for rentals online—don't hand over any money if you haven't been able to view the property in person, and look for the red flags.

What other Craigslist scams should I be aware of?

There are many Craigslist scams to be aware of. Some of the more common scams include fake cashier's checks, PayPal scams, fake ticket scams, and fake escrow site scams.

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